Wayfinding in Design

For me, the thesis essay requirement at CMU was by far the most intimidating part of the grad school process coming in. A lot of it is just the word, "thesis." It conjures up images of 18th century academics mulling over ancient leather books and discussing Copernicus. A big part of overcoming that initial sense of awe was simply reading through past thesis essays. I spent a lot of time browsing through the stacks over at Baker library getting a feel for what a thesis really is, and also tacitly reassuring myself with the knowledge that every design grad before me had faced down this challenge and won.

Like my project, my thesis essay centers around the concept of wayfinding. Early on, my professor Dick Buchanan encouraged each of his advisees to break our main topics down into three discrete ideas for study. Here's how I approached it:

In my thesis essay, I focus on three key aspects of wayfinding design: place, exploration and understanding. In traditional wayfinding practice, we understand a place by exploring it, by being there. I'm interested in how this occurs. How does an exploration of place lead to understanding? With this question in mind, I investigate the distinction between place and space, and between exploration and discovery. I also articulate four levels of understanding as they apply to human experience, and suggest ways in which place, exploration and understanding are interconnected. Ultimately, I explore the potential for wayfinding to stand as a metaphor for Design itself.

After two years, and much wailing and gnashing of teeth, here's the completed thesis. Wayfinding in Design [PDF 100K]

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